This has been the longest 24 hours of my life.
Dubai and Israel are neighbouring countries and for reasons that I haven’t researched yet, there are no direct flights between these 2 countries. In fact, flights to Israel from any part of the Middle East (except for Istanbul) are non-existent. I had to take a long way because there was no other easy and cheap option but to take Wizz Air and stop in Bucharest, Romania. As usual, if you want cheap airfares, you must be willing to take the long and hard way.
One day before my flight, I learned from Kim, the Marketing Manager of Time Hotels Dubai that I am not flying from Dubai International Airport but from Al Maktoum. For media trips, journalists are required to give their onward ticket to the host/sponsor so they can arrange airport transfers and/or refund fares depending on the agreement. Seriously, I wouldn’t have known if Kim did not tell me they could not provide a complimentary service for me because it was too far. It wasn’t a part of the agreement.
Of course, I understood. The existence of another airport in Dubai was new to me. It was one hour away from the city and I had to pay 200.00 AED ($54.00 USD) for the taxi service. Okay, let’s do that math: I paid $275.00 USD for my Dubai-Tel Aviv one-way ticket plus the 200 AED ($54.00 USD) taxi service = $329.00 USD. Just wanted to take note. Later on, you will see how I want to remove “budget airlines” to my travel jam.
Finally, I arrived the deserted Al Maktoum Airport and I wasn’t expecting to be bombarded with so much questions…
It was standard procedure, they said. Again, for reasons I haven’t researched yet, all non-Israelis who are flying to Israel will undergo a massive interview – worst than applying for a US visa. I was already expecting it as I got heads up from my friends who had the same experience. Over 30 questions were asked, if I counted that correctly and here are the top 10 that I remember:
- What are you going to do in Israel?
- Who is paying for the trip?
- Why do you have a business visa for Dubai?
- Who is hosting you in Dubai?
- Are you married? (Wait, what???)
- How many hours are you stopping in Romania?
- Where is your Romanian visa?
- Where is your Israeli visa?
- Who is getting married in Tel Aviv and what is your relation to them?
- Where will be the wedding held?
Over an hour of this and I was already drained. “Everything is sababa.” I said. Sababa is one of several Hebrew slang meaning “great” or “cool” and can express enthusiasm, satisfaction or assent. It really makes a difference if you are equipped with some basic language skills.
“Okay, you can check in now. Thank you so much for your time. When you reach the boarding gate, you will be asked some questions again. Same when you arrive in Bucharest. Standard procedures.”
I put my bag in the check-in in belt when the ground steward said, “Madam, a checked in luggage is not included in your ticket. You have to pay separately for this.”
Seriously? Seriously? I did not have a choice but to pay another 250 AED ($68.00 USD) for checked in luggage. First, I had to go out of the airport and find a money changer because this airport does not accept any currency but dirhams. So, I haven’t checked in, I have to exchange money, I have to pay my excess baggage – all in different counters and areas of the airport. It was insane.
How I managed to do all this with only 30 minutes left to boarding? I have no idea.
After exchanging and paying, I went back to the check-in counter to give the receipt. “Your checked in bag goes straight to Tel Aviv. You don’t have to pick it up in Bucharest. Have a nice trip, Madam.”
Again, let’s do the math: $275.00 USD (airfare) + 200 AED ($54.00 USD) taxi to airport + 250 AED ($68.00 USD) for the luggage = $397.00 USD. Let’s add 100 AED ($27.00 USD) for food. Since Wizz Air is a “budget airline,” food is not included onboard. Total of $424.00 USD.
Meanwhile, at the boarding gate, the argument(s) I went through were:
- Philippine passport holders were visa-free in Israel;
- I needed a transit visa to stop in Bucharest.
I told them I don’t need a visa to enter Israel neither do I need a visa to stop in Bucharest. I emphasised it, maybe like, 20 times? They kept arguing with me until we had to consult Google. God, I can’t believe airline employees don’t know this.
Boarding in Bucharest
Remember, when I check in my luggage in Dubai, the ground steward said, “your bag will go straight to Tel Aviv.”
In Bucharest, it was a different story…
“Hi! Can you check if my bag is already transferred in this flight?” I know I had to double check because something wasn’t right. I didn’t feel right. It was like my Panama-Colombia-lost-baggage-experience again. I could feel it. She then called the transfer desk and checked. It didn’t look good.
“I’m sorry madam but Wizz Air is a point to point airline. You should’ve known that you had to pick up your baggage at the arrivals area then check in again when you arrived here. If you want to board now, you have to go without a luggage but we will deliver it to Tel Aviv in 3 days.”
Please, it’s 2:30 in the morning and I am seriously drained. I don’t have the energy for this. And what does point to point airline mean? I bought a Dubai-Tel Aviv ticket. I did not choose to stop in Bucharest. They did that to me. But what she really meant was I don’t have anything to wear for 3 days (not even an underwear) and most importantly, the dress I bought to wear for the wedding is in that bag. Her colleague in Dubai clearly said I don’t have to pick my luggage up. And even if I had to, I cannot go to the arrival area to do it because I need a visa to pass Immigration.
Okay, math. Math. I hate math. But let’s do it: $275.00 USD (airfare) + 200 AED ($54.00 USD) taxi to airport + 250 AED ($68.00 USD) for the luggage + 100 AED ($27.00 USD) for food + $100.00 USD worth of shopping money. I need clothes, of course. 3 days is a long time. Grand total: $524.00 USD!!!
- CONCLUSION: I am officially allergic to budget airlines. I always end up paying more.
- CONCLUSION 2: If I booked in an upper class airline, I would have paid around $500 USD, too.
- CONCLUSION 3: I am never flying with Wizz Air again. Ever. Even if I had the whole row to myself in both flights.
- CONCLUSION 4: The wedding is in 2 days. I don’t have anything to wear for sure.
To make up for it, there wasn’t any question and answer portion. Security in Romania is pretty lenient. Boarding was so easy they didn’t even ask for the passport of the passengers. They just scanned away until boarding was complete.
Hello, Tel Aviv!
The non-Israeli passport holders’ line was long af. I was in the far back and I kept looking at the Immigration counter to see if they are stamping the passports or they are giving a separate paper. I tiptoed like an idiot until I stepped on the foot of the Romanian lady behind me. I wanted to ask if she has been to Israel before and if she knows if I should ask for my passport not to be stamped but she already looked annoyed. Daniela, my Austrian friend who came a day before me already told me Israel doesn’t stamp passports anymore. But I wasn’t convinced.
After 45 minutes in line, my turn came. And I did what I think was best.
“Shalom! Hello. Can you stamp me on a separate paper?” Stamp me?! Was that even a correct term? I wasn’t sure. I handed him my passport anyway.
“Oh, you don’t want an Israeli stamp on your passport? Why?” Trick fcking question, I thought. This is psychological war and I’ve had enough of it since I left Dubai 24 hours prior. Of course, I want an Israeli stamp! My passport serves as a memory of all the countries I’ve been to. I would want one if it didn’t cause trouble in the Middle East.
“No, it’s not that. It’s just that I’ll be also traveling to other Middle Eastern countries.” I did not know if that was the right response but there! I said it.
“Which countries in the Middle East are you planning to visit?”
“Hmmm. Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Georgia…” Before I can continue, he interrupted.
“Georgia is not in the Middle East. What else?” Wow, is this a geography exam now?! I was really careful of what to say because I honestly don’t know if he will react violently.
“I don’t have plans at the moment as I am traveling for an indefinite time.”
“How can you afford that? Are you a daughter of a rich family in the Philippines?”
“No. I work and save. That’s what I do.” Yeah, I work and save. Good job, Trisha.
“What was your job?” I explained I’m a journalist and all that shenanigan. You know what it is.
“This is a new passport. Can you please show me your old passports?” Relaxed af, I opened my bag and handed him 2 old passports.
“Impressive. All pages are full, wow. I saw you have three stickers in Hong Kong for the past month. What did you do there?”
“Just visiting some friends.”
“Three times in one month?”
“Do you do drugs?”
“You heard me. Do you take drugs?” Okay, now I look like a crack addict.
“Not even a little grass?”
“If you say so. Until when are you staying in Israel?” I said until the 23rd though I am not entirely sure what my plans are. There were huge follow up questions about my family and some personal background. After all those heart to heart qs, he finally asked why I am visiting Israel.
“My friends are getting married. I met them while I was traveling Peru last year.”
“What are their names?”
“Batel and Ilan.”
“Those are Israeli names.”
“Yes. The ones that are getting married are my Israeli friends. Don’t worry, everything is sababa.”
I used that line again because for every time, it was effective. He smiled at me, handed me my passport with a glossy card that served as my stamp for Israel. And yes friends, Israel doesn’t stamp passports anymore. (see featured photo above for a sample entry card)
Exiting the Immigration gates, I was finally able to breathe. I still have one problem though — my checked in bag. I went to the lost and found area and reported my “missing” luggage. They filed a report. I left Ilan’s local number to them just in case the bag arrives ahead of time.
I had 350 AED (almost $100.00 USD) left so I went to the nearest money changer and I was right. Israel don’t exchange the rich Emirati currency.
“Is there a place in the city where I can change dirhams to shekels?” Shekels is the currency of Israel.
“But there should be a place where all currencies can be exchanged, right? I mean, I was able to change Hong Kong dollars in Dubai.”
“No, Miss. The dirhams don’t have any use to this country.” I am now downgraded to Miss, from Madam in Dubai. I knew it! As weird as it is, Israel doesn’t change dirhams at all. Oh well, USD to shekels it is.
I hailed a cab and gave the driver my hostel’s address (back to hostel living yes. If you are not following on Snapchat = psimonmyway).
163 shekels to get to my hostel. Okay, let’s not do the math. I’m drained. I’m tired. I want to sleep. I want to eat. I want to see my friends, above all. It’s been a while.
Hell yeah, I am finally in Israel, thingsless, no extra underwear, no toiletries, no clothes but all my friends from Peru are here and I promise to enjoy Batel and Ilan’s wedding weekend!
Have you traveled to Israel from Dubai? How was the experience? I would love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts on the comment box below!